Gliding is a challenging and enjoyable recreational activity and competitive air sport in which pilots fly unpowered aircraft known as gliders or sailplanes using naturally occurring currents of rising air in the atmosphere to remain airborne. The word soaring is also used for the sport.
Gliding as a sport began in the 1920s. Initially the objective was to increase the duration of flights but soon pilots attempted cross-country flights away from the place of launch. Improvements in aerodynamics and in the understanding of weather phenomena have allowed greater distances at higher average speeds. Long distances are now flown using any of the main sources of rising air – ridge lift, thermals and lee waves. When conditions are favourable, experienced pilots can now fly hundreds of kilometres before returning to their home airfields; occasionally flights of more than 1,000 kilometres are achieved.